Financial planners still have a way to go before we will be widely recognised as professionals. No one could disagree with Martin Bamford that there’s more to it than getting qualifications, signing a code of ethics and doing CPD.
None of these things, and nor for that matter feigned good manners, compliant disclosure and enforced honesty – imposed by regulators – can do the trick.
The reason is that, more than anything else, professionalism is an attitude – and by definition attitudes come from within.
The attitude that a truly professional financial planner brings to work is a clear commitment to the welfare of clients, even – where called for – at his or her own personal cost.
In close personal relationships we call this attitude ‘love’ (in its highest meaning). In wider society it is reflected in stories of awesome bravery and unselfishness: being ready to ‘lay down your life for a friend.’ In the business world this attitude is why people walk away from lucrative but conflicted job offers and business opportunities, quietly get on with pro bono work, and simply ‘go the extra mile.’
Our industry has more than its share of good people, willing to go further than the extra mile. I’ve been inspired by many of them over the years. But, then again, lots of people must have admired and been inspired by Bernie Madoff before his particular conflicts of interest were exposed.
Confusing Remuneration Models Led To Tighter Regulation
This is why we are still behind the play in winning respect and trust. The biggest barriers to professionalism in financial services are poorly understood and conflicted structures for remuneration and rewards.
It’s a shame (but perhaps unavoidable, given human nature and the nature of our work) that product suppliers and financial advisers did not face this challenge squarely enough themselves. Now the world’s regulators are making it their mission.
This may have been inevitable, and it is a setback for our emerging profession. Attitudes lead to voluntary actions – and no one can be forced to love.
But in the long run – if only by limiting opportunities for those in financial services to take shortcuts, hide conflicts, and mislead people on the road to their own comfortable retirement – the current regulatory flurry may prove to be a good thing for the profession.
Fewer sharks will be attracted to our blue ocean, and those that already remain will be attracted to easier pickings elsewhere.
We can earn the respect and trust we crave and need. But not just by complying with the rules. We also need to keep going those extra miles. Showing the love.